Guns for sale! Gene was an old friend, a bright, sardonic, and crazy old friend. Twice, he’d spent time living as a homeless man on the streets of Manhattan. When I questioned him about it, he told me he’d never felt more at peace. Married with young children, he always returned home. His unique loyalty to his family caused me to believe him to be sane in a distinctively different way. I suppose that’s why I wasn’t surprised when he made a profoundly important request.
“Barry, I want you to kill me,” he said, in a voice he could have used to thank someone for selling him a loaf of bread. “I’ve got the gun.”
I shrugged as I might at a friend who’d tried to make a prank call by disguising his voice unsuccessfully. “You’re kidding,” I said without actually saying it and left him. That was 35 years ago.
In all that time, I’ve neither shot nor owned a gun. But I know and respect many people who possess and shoot guns. Not one has committed a crime; very few have bullets enough to go to a firing range. Still, they are deeply concerned about laws that would curtail their legal ownership of guns.
They believe in being able to protect themselves; self-defense is their motivation. Licensed and registered, the people I know are not the ones who are looking for trouble. Indeed, none are members of gangs that seek to rob and rape and plunder.
That said, I did wonder about the gun owners I didn’t know. Indeed, I questioned what I’d find at gun shows and the kind of people who paid to attend them. Since I’d never been to one, I couldn’t answer those who thought gun shows were part of the problem. After all, weren’t people outraged to hear that a gun show was being held not far from the Sandy Hook massacre and not many days after?
This past Sunday, while in Winston-Salem, across the street from Wake Forest’s baseball park (well, the B, B, & T Field), I attended my first gun show. Immediately, I was pleased to see that no one charged for parking. No one directed me to park in a certain area. Outside, there were no vendors hawking their wares, no bands playing country rock or blue grass. Indeed, the only greeters were a dozen or so quiet protestors who had posters that suggested we needed to try loving embraces rather than firearms.
“Do you have a flyer?” I asked a friendly, older man who may have been a leader.
“No,” he answered, “just these,” he said, as he pointed to the group’s signs. “Are you going inside?” he asked, as if he wondered whether I might be one of them.
“Gathering data,” I responded, “for my Controversial Issues class at our Community College. I’ve got to be able to talk about both sides,” I said with a smile.
He seemed to like my answer. “Be careful,” he warned me.
I was. I almost walked into one of the gun owners. Although it was my fault, he apologized. Maybe, I thought, he was a non-dangerous one. A few steps later, I paid for my $8 ticket.
Just beyond that was the concrete patio in the front of what could have served as a hanger for small planes or an air raid shelter. As I crossed it, I saw a group of men talking and smoking. Their topic was the danger of guns, specifically of not owning them.
One was quietly vehement. “Before the Sandy Hook shooting, there was a brutal massacre in Japan. The guy used knives. Did you hear about it?”
[8 Children Dead in Japanese School Stabbing - ABC News 8 Children Dead in Japanese School Stabbing. Hot Topics: ... Although the Japanese crime rate is much lower than in the United States, ...abcnews.go.com/International/Story?id=80964&page=1]
I didn’t, but, regardless, his point was that knives and guns aren’t the problems. Insanity and rage and those with a vested interest in murdering people are. As the man continued his lecture, he mentioned recent incidents where gun owners, just regular people who were carrying their guns, had been able to stop criminals while they were committing crimes.
Then I walked inside. Immediately, I was asked to fill out a form for a door prize. There were as many food vendors as ammo dealers. Guns and rifles for sale were locked and secured by metal wires; there was no target shooting. There was no loud music.
Families were there. No one was rowdy; I didn’t see a single inflammatory t-shirt; no one was on a stump preaching hate. Although there were no targets with President Obama’s picture, there was one with Osama’s.
Men were talking about nomenclature, about rifle specifics that were highly detailed and of little interest to me. Many guns and rifles were museum pieces priced at thousands of dollars. Gold and silver coins were available too. One vendor crafted signs that served as outdoor memorials. I asked for his card, then walked on; I passed a table with camo cloth bullet proof vests.
They too were tied down. What I didn’t see were gangs and mafia thugs and people who were acting out as if they’d skipped their meds. People I saw reminded me of the volunteer firemen and women who lived near my home when I built my house seven miles outside the city limits.
They didn’t remind me of the meek protestors who’d warned me about going inside the gun show. I thought about that when I saw the headline in the Danville paper a day later.
“Son charged in Dad’s Slaying,” it read. Below it was the picture of a 31- year-old man who we had waited on for years. In fact, I’d helped him about two weeks before he was charged with “…first degree murder in the Thursday stabbing death of his father.”
Both he and his 64-year-old father wore very big sizes. One of my salesmen suggested that the father may have gotten his son to stab him. After I thought about that, I realized that, if the father’s condition was terminal, the time may have come for him to provide for his son after he died. It might have been that the stabbing helped achieve that since the son wouldn’t be found to be mentally competent. He would be cared for by our prison system for the rest of his life.
I wished I had seen that story before attending the gun show. I would have asked the protestors and the gun owners to talk about knives and knife control laws. After all, I’d seen some sharp and deadly looking doozies on tables at the gun show.
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